A public servant who is worth his weight in gold
Politicians have a habit of trying to discredit politics, often giving a bad name and reputation to anybody who might be involved in public service. This is not a South African phenomenon, it happens the world over.
One of the people who has consistently, over the past 25 years of democracy, brought integrity and earned the respect of many from different political parties, is the Reverend Courtney Sampson, Western Cape provincial head of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).
It appears that Sampson, who has presided over elections in the Western Cape since 1999, might have overseen his last election. He has indicated that he wants to step down.
His wisdom will be sorely missed.
I have known Courtney for years, since the days he was a parish priest at the local Anglican Church in Hanover Park where I lived. He was always supportive of the work we were doing as young people trying to conscientise other youngsters about the Struggle against apartheid.
He would not hesitate to make the church available for meetings, even though at a risk: there might be a backlash from conservative congregants and he might have attracted the attention of the security police, that infamous police branch that dealt with political troublemakers (basically those fighting apartheid and injustice).
Over the years, I have been privileged to call him my friend, but he has always been much more than that. He has also been a mentor and someone I can call on when I have complex matters that I am struggling to understand.
Courtney has always been able to make sense of what appears to be complicated issues, doing so by remaining calm while everyone around him were losing their heads. When I was doing the research for my book, Race, which deals with race and racism in post-apartheid South Africa, I was worried that I was unhealthily obsessed with race and questioned whether that meant that I was racist. Courtney pointed out to me the difference between being racist and thinking of race. It made a huge difference to what I eventually wrote.
One of the examples of how he has managed to remain calm amid potential storms was this week when someone shared on social media pictures of what appeared to be separate queues for black and white voters in Wellington, immediately crying racism.
Courtney, I suppose after years of working with politicians, did not rush to buy into the racism claims but investigated it first. It appeared to have been a simple logistical arrangement. Most of the black voters made to queue separately were students who wanted to vote outside of their voting district but had to fill in a special form to do so. To speed up the process, they were asked to queue separately. They happened to be black, while most of the other voters happened to be white.
Now in his sixties and after more than 20 years of working for the IEC, it is not unusual or unexpected for Courtney to want to move on. Good leaders know when to step up, but also when to step down. I wish him well in whatever he decides to do and know that he will make a success.
Over the years I have interacted with many public servants who have given me confidence that, despite the best (or worst) attempts by some politicians, our public service is in good hands. Courtney is one of those, but not the only one. It's a pity that the actions of a few corrupt politicians often overshadow the good work of many honest public servants.
* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media.
** Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.